June 01, 2010
NC: Hello, I’m the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don’t have to. This is a story about a boy and his Willy. Let me try it again. This is a story about a boy and his relationship with his little whale. No. This is a story about a boy who likes to hold onto his big fish—OK, OK. This isn’t what you think. It has Michael Jackson in it—OK, just roll it.
(The title screen for “Free Willy” is shown, followed by a montage of clips from the movie.)
NC (voiceover): Yeah, you remember this little classic, don’t you? Two misunderstood souls share a special bond that neither one can explain but neither one would give up for the world. Never heard of that before, except for a boy and his raccoon (the poster for “Rascal” is shown), a boy and his dog (the poster for “Lassie” is shown), a boy and his hawk (the poster for “My Side of the Mountain” is shown), and a boy and his…multiple alien knockoffs. (The posters for “E.T.,” “Mac and Me,” “Flight of the Navigator” and “The Last Starfighter” are shown briefly) So this story was nothing new at the time, yet it still turned out to be a big hit. Why?
NC: Well, let’s look at this whale of a fail to find out.
(The movie begins)
NC (voiceover): So it starts off with the action of whales jumping. Actually, I should say it tediously stretches out the action of whales jumping for two and a half minutes. But then we come across our enemy.
(The word “MAN!” is displayed next to a kitten with a tear on its face while a dramatic music sting plays.)
NC (voiceover): They capture one of the whales in their nets and take him away as our opening credit is shown.
(The title “Free Willy” is shown moving back from the camera in the form of a circle (with “Free” on top and “Willy” on the bottom) and positions itself to form around the dorsal fin of Willy (like a lifesaver) before the background scene dissolves to the entrance gates for an ocean theme park.)
NC (voiceover): Wow, what first year Photoshop student put that title together? So we come across our…boy-girl-thing, as we see him and his friends make a living by conning people out of money and stealing their daily food.
(Cut to our hero Jesse (Jason James Ritcher) gathering food from an empty café table, and he looks up to see a family of four staring at him while they’re eating at a different table.)
NC (voiceover): (as Jesse, in a shrill voice) DON’T JUDGE ME!
(Cut to Jesse and another friend escaping the café.)
NC (voiceover): So the boy’s name is Jesse. He lives in that special time in movies where runaways are cool, can survive on their own, and somehow have relatively clean hair despite the fact that they have nowhere to stay.
(Cut to a police car intruding on Jesse and his friends’ hideout.)
Jesse: Let’s get outta here! Go, go, go!
NC (voiceover): So while running away from the cops, they hide in the back room of an aquarium, where they spray-paint the walls because that’s what tough blond curly-haired white boys do!
(Cut to Jesse going past a glass wall of a whale tank; lightning flashes, and Willy appears with his jaw open, scaring Jesse and making him scream.)
NC: (waves his hands in the air) CAT!!!!
(Jesse starts to run away but then hears Willy’s call, making him stop to wonder.)
Jesse: What is that?
NC: (as Jesse) Yeah, I saw this in a book somewhere. I think it’s called…marketable.
NC (voiceover): So almost instantly, a connection is made between the boy and the whale, but Jesse is caught by the cops and brought down to the station.
Jesse: Aw, you missed me, Dwight?
Dwight Mercer (a social worker, played by Mykelti Williamson): if you’re late, it Don’t come in here being a bonehead. it were lucky this time. I kept your little behind out of court.
NC: Oh, hey, a supportive black person looking out for a lost white person! Gah, I haven’t seen that in a movie since…every movie ever made, I think.
Jesse: You hear from my mom?
Dwight: You still want me to hear from your mom?
Jesse: I just wanna know if she’s Ok.
Dwight: Nobody’s heard from your mom in six years Jesse?
NC: Your father, on the other hand, wrote you another letter from prison. (He opens up a nicely-folded piece of paper to read it) He says… (NC looks shocked to see what the letter says and folds it back up.) I’ll tell you when you’re older.
NC (voiceover): So the kid is given a foster home with a perfectly nice couple, which of course, HE HATES!
(Cut to Jesse and his foster parents having dinner, and Jesse doesn’t seem very happy.)
Annie Greenwood (Jayne Atkinson): In fact, that’s how I know Dwight. I did a story on Cooperton.
Jesse: Dwight’s a jerk.
Glen Greenwood (Michael Madsen): So what exactly are you into, Jesse?
Jesse: I’m not into talking while I’m eating.
NC (voiceover): (as Glen) Well, you wanna know what I’m into? Child abuse. Lots of it. You want to see a sample of that, you little shit?
(Cut to Annie and Glen showing Jesse his new room.)
Glen: Here’s your room, Jesse.
Annie: You got the best view in the house. It’s great to have you, Jesse. (She and Glen leave the room, leaving Jesse alone.) G’nite.
NC (voiceover): So as you can tell, this little boy is just about as clichéd as a movie runaway can get. The only thing missing is him playing on a harmonica—Right on cue! (Jesse plays on his harmonica briefly.) So it turns out as part of his probation, he has to go clean the graffiti that he left on the whale’s tank. Here, he befriends a guy named Mr. Johnson, who can’t seem to train Willy, no matter how hard him and his staff try.
Randolph Johnson (August Schellenberg/Steven segal): (to Jesse) Willy gets in the moods; you better give him some space. You know what I mean? Don’t bother him, he won’t bother you. You understand?
NC (voiceover): (as Randolph) I hope you make no connection to that animal whatsoever. I don’t want to see any of that “kindred spirit” stuff.
NC (voiceover): (Normal) He also sees one of the other trainers played by Lori Petty.
Rae Lindley (Petty): You’re that graffiti kid, aren’t you?
Jesse: I guess.
Rae: You really messed up our observation area.
NC: Yeah, well, you messed up Tank Girl. (He shrugs)
NC (voiceover): We also see the park’s owner, who’s played by the villain from The Next Karate Kid. And wouldn’t you know it? He’s playing the villain here, too. I think it’s because his eyebrows are permanently cemented to Douche mode.
Dial (the park owner, played by Michael Ironside): (to his assistant Wade, played by Richard Riehle) It will cost at least $100,000. Expand that psychotic malcontent’s pen.
Dial: Oh, God, I hate that whale.
NC: (as Dial) Yet I love “Gilmore Girls.” Weird, huh?
NC (voiceover): So as you would guess, the boy playing his harmonica and Willy start to make a connection. They’re both unsatisfied animals who have everything they need and yet constantly want to escape. What’s not to connect with? He even sneaks into the park to play his harmonica at night because…didn’t you do that when you were a kid?
(A light comes on from an office up above; Jesse gasps and gets up to run away, but ends up slipping on the edge of the whale tank and falls into the water; Randolph arrives to stand at the wooden railing above the tank to check on the scene, but sees nothing and heads back inside.)
NC (voiceover): So after his thorough search, it turns out that Jesse almost drowns, but of course, Willy, the whale who couldn’t love, saves the boy’s life. I assume it’s because he likes his food dry, but maybe he loves him as well.
Jesse: (to Willy) You saved my life.
NC (voiceover): But still, why did he save the boy’s life?
Randolph: (to Jesse) Ever look into Willy’s eyes? Those eyes discovered the stars long before man was even a whisper of Mother Earth. They can look into a man’s soul if they want. He won’t look at Rae or me. Maybe he sees you.
NC: Or… maybe that’s bullshit. I don’t know.
Randolph: (to Jesse’s foster parents after giving Jesse a ride home) We could use him for the rest of the summer, if that’s all right with you. Make a job of it. Pay him a little something, too.
NC: (speaks normally as Randolph) It’s the least I could offer after he broke into my theme park, vandalized my walls and disturbed my whale.
NC (voiceover): So Jesse is now working there as a professional… boy, as he notices Willy’s disturbance is deeper than he thought.
(Willy starts making his crying call.)
NC: God, it sounds like Curly having a hernia.
(A photo of Curly Joe from “The Three Stooges” is shown with Willy’s crying call being heard.)
NC (voiceover): So it turns out the owners of the park aren’t treating him (Willy) very well, but that’s because they don’t have the misunderstood heart of gold that Jesse has.
Jesse: (rubs Willy’s nose) Sure feels like rubbery. Still a beautiful animal, though.
NC (voiceover): Yeah, real street-wise kid, like I said.
NC: (as Jesse, talking tough and facing offscreen camera right) Hey, I ain’t playing, man. This is the real deal! (faces camera left) Hey, you don’t like it? Shove it up your pie-hole! (faces the camera and pretends to gently pet a whale’s nose) You’re such a beautiful animal.
NC (voiceover): So the kid starts training the whale without even knowing it, as Mr. Johnson and the other trainer think that maybe he should be the one to train him for a show. So she trains the kid to… train the whale, as their bond gets even closer and closer, but something still seems to be missing from Willy’s life.
(Cut to a night scene at the arena, and Willy makes his crying call again.)
NC: (covers his ears with both palms) God, it sounds like Snarf from “Thundercats” getting neutered.
NC (voiceover): But it turns out something is missing from Jesse’s life, too, as he discusses it with his foster father.
Glen: (while Jesse looks at one of Glen’s old photos) That’s a picture of me and my mother. She died about two years ago.
Jesse: Yeah, well, my mom’s gonna get me one of these days.
(The sound of a cuckoo clock ringing (to signify that Jesse might be crazy) is played briefly over the scene.)
Jesse: You don’t believe me, do you? I don’t care what those people say. Those people don’t know anything!
NC (voiceover): So their little argument gets his foster parents in another argument, which finally reminds Jesse to open up his “Welcome Home” gift.
(Jesse opens up the card, which says inside, “Dear, Jesse, Welcome to our home. Love, Annie and Glen.” The gift is a baseball; we hear Annie and Glen arguing outside Jesse’s room.)
Glen: You’re right.
Annie: I know I’m right.
Glen: I don’t like it. We don’t owe anybody anything.
NC (voiceover): So after seeing the trouble he’s caused, he realizes that maybe he can be kind. Maybe he can understand. Maybe he can be a little douche and throw a baseball through a window. (Jesse does just that to his bedroom window in anger)
NC: (as the foster parents, groans in frustration) Should’ve gotten a puppy.
Annie: (consoles Jesse, who is burying his face in bed) Are you OK?
Jesse: Yeah. (Cut to him sitting up in bed) I heard you guys fighting. It scared me.
NC: Yeah, I could totally relate. (gasps and points to a spot on his desk) A spider! (He pretends to pick up a baseball and throw it off-screen; we hear the sound of a glass window breaking.)
NC (voiceover): So the bad guys drop by to see the trainer’s progress.
(At the park, Jesse trains Willy to wave his fin from the top of the water’s surface and swim by.)
Jesse: Thank them. Thank them. Good boy!
(Cut to Dial and Wade watching; Wade is amused, but Dial is frowning.)
NC (voiceover): (laughs) Jesus, I swear this guy is a robot!
(Willy swims up to the water’s surface and slides on the edge to pose with his tail lifted.)
NC (voiceover): (as Dial, sounding like a robot) Disengage impressed mode. Engage smug indifference.
Dial: (asks Jesse) So you can do all that again?
Dial: What you and Rae want cost a lot of money. I have to be sure.
Jesse: Do dogs pee on brick walls?
NC (voiceover): (as Dial, still sounding like a robot) Let me check my douchebag files for that.
(Cut to Dial talking to Wade while sitting in the driver’s seat of his car.)
Dial: “The Willy Show.” It’ll make money. And that, my friend, is what we are all about.
NC (voiceover): Yes, in case you didn’t get the subtlety that he was the villain before, he just flat out says, “All we care about is the money.”
NC: Why don’t you just film the ending of “Titanic” with a sad face and broken heart while you’re at it? (Footage of Rose clinging onto frozen Jack in “Titanic” is shown with a sad face and broken heart on either side of the screen.)
NC (voiceover): So everything is set for “The Willy Show,” but Willy gets spooked because people downstairs are –(gasps) gasp!—tapping on the glass! (Footage of the kids downstairs yelling and tapping on the glass, which angers Willy, is shown.) So let me get this straight: these killer whales that eat seals, dolphins and even other whales can’t take simple tapping on glass?
NC: I guess all seals need to scare them away are miniature windshields and a spoon. (NC’s drawing of a seal using a windshield and spoon to scare a killer whale away is shown.) That oughta keep them away for good.
Jesse: Please, Willy, please. Don’t blow it.
(Willy makes his crying call again.)
NC: (covers his ears with both hands) God! It sounds like Jar-Jar Binks in a blender!
NC (voiceover): So Willy gets so mad at the constant clapping that he actually rams the glass, which actually results in one of my favorite scenes from one of the henchmen.
(Wade checks a newly sprung leak coming from one of the tank’s bolts, looks back at Willy and smugly eats a piece of popcorn while a dramatic music sting is inserted into the clip.)
NC: (laughs) No one can eat popcorn so devilishly! Seriously, you can put that in, like, any heartwarming scene and it just would suck the love right out of it!
(A scene from “The Princess Bride” is queued up.)
Buttercup: I will never doubt again.
Westley: There will never be a need. (He leans down to kiss her.)
(Cut to Wade eating popcorn with the same dramatic music sting and smug look.)
NC: You see? It makes anything sinister! Try it out on some other movies; I wanna see what you come up with.
NC (voiceover): So Jesse gets bummed out that Willy bailed out. So the supportive black guy comes in to try and talk some sense into him.
Jesse: I’m sick of this place! I’m going to find my mom.
Dwight: The state, can find your mom. if The federal government can’t find your mom, either.? When are you gonna get it? is your mom isn’t coming back jesse? Come on, turn around and drove away. Didn’t look around, didn’t slow down, didn’t even look in the rear view mirror.
NC: Uh, if this is a motivational speech, I’d suggest a rewrite.
NC (voiceover): So Jesse packs up his things and decides to run away again. Where’s he going, you might ask?
Jesse: (to Willy) Going to California.
Jimmy (from The Wizard): California.
NC: Shut up.
(Willy makes his crying call again.)
NC: (holds his ears) UGH! It sounds like William Hung sucking on helium! SHUT UP!
NC (voiceover): So what is it Willy’s been crying about all this time?
Jesse: (He peeks out to the ocean to see other killer whales there.) It’s your family.
NC (voiceover): Wow. None of those marine biologists just notice the bunch of killer whales happen to be waiting outside the park? Real observant. (Cut to Dial and his team drilling out the bolts from the tank.) But it turns out Robo-Douche (Dial) and his henchmen try to destroy the tank so they can collect the insurance money that Willy is worth.
Mr. Potter (from “It’s a Wonderful Life”): (to George Bailey) You’re worth more dead than alive.
NC (voiceover): So what are our heroes going to do?
Jesse: (to Randolph) Let’s free Willy!
Randolph: Never liked this job, anyway.
NC (voiceover): Yeah, it’s not like calling the police or Animal Control will play any part here. Nope! It’s up to a Native American, a small boy, and Tank Girl. That makes logical sense.
Randolph: (after getting Willy out of the water) How are we gonna pull him?
NC (voiceover): Oh, no, wait, I’ll tell you what makes even more sense: Stealing your foster parent’s truck when you find out later that they willingly would have helped you in the first place! USE YOUR BRAINS, YOU LITTLE—Oh, who cares? It’s a whale on the chase as our villain, dressed as Hugh Hefner here, chases our heroes to the water.
(Cut to our heroes driving through a gate and quickly back their truck into the water to let Willy in; Glen opens the door to find water seeping into the truck.)
NC (voiceover): (as Glen) Aww, fuck adoption. Fuck, fuck, fuck adoption!
(Cut to Willy being set free from the back of the truck.)
NC (voiceover): But the bad guys have sealed off their only way out, laying their nets so that Willy can get caught.
Jesse: (runs along the top of a wall of rocks toward Willy) Hurry, Willy, hurry! (Cut to him kneeling close to Willy) Don’t forget me, OK? I don’t want to forget you.
NC (voiceover): (sobs, though sarcastically) So it looks like this is goodbye. That famous scene that’s shown on all the posters, every trailer and even on the front of the DVD? Yeah, it looks like that’s not going to happen.
Dial: (to Wade and his other henchmen) That whale’s not going anywhere. The water’s 20 feet deep. Those nets will touch bottom. Close it in.
NC: (as Dial, with his arms folded) I believe this calls for a victory snort. Care to join me? (Snorts heavily through his nose)
Jesse: (runs along the wall of rocks) Now, come on, Willy, I know you can do it, boy!
NC (voiceover): OK, so we all know this scene, and we all know the jokes made about it. The whale only makes it halfway, the whale crushes the boy, the whale eats the boy while jumping over. We’ve seen all the satires. (Willy successfully jumps over Jesse and the wall of rocks.) But here’s my question that nobody’s ever brought up. If Willy can jump over several feet of solid rock, WHY COULDN’T HE JUST JUMP OVER THE NETS? THEY’RE UNDERWATER! ALL HE HAS TO DO IS JUMP HALF A CENTIMETER, AND HE’S FREE! THERE WAS NO POINT IN JUMPING OVER THOSE FUCKING ROCKS! IT WAS TOTALLY DUMB!
Dial: (is stunned by what he had just seen) God, I hate that whale.
NC: (as Dial) Oh, well. At least I still got my white shark insurance at Sea World.
NC (voiceover): So the kid reunites with his foster parents and Willy reunites with his family as well.
NC: There it is, “Free Willy.” What’s my take?
(Clips from the movie play again as NC speaks.)
NC (Voiceover): Well, I can’t say it’s a terrible movie, but it’s not really that good. There’s very few little surprises in it, because we’ve seen this story a hundred times! We just haven’t seen it with a whale yet. But aside from that, it hits every note we’ve seen in every other movie with a kid and his pet! There’s really nothing different to it.
NC: So, why was this movie such a big hit? (Beat) Because Michael Jackson did the song for it!
(Michael Jackson’s music video for the movie’s theme song plays as NC speaks.)
NC (voiceover): That’s right, that’s the only reason I think this movie made money. He was still, like, one of the biggest things in the world at the time, so if he said, (speaks like Michael Jackson) “Tee-hee! Watch this whale!” (normal) people are gonna watch that fucking whale!
NC: But like I said, it’s not a terrible movie. I mean, it’s not as bad as something like “A Troll in Central P—” NOPE! Nope, nope, nope, I know how this works. Yeah, if I say the entire title, that means that I have to review it next week. Yeah, I know this joke. Yeah, I’m not doing it. Mmm-mmm. There is no way that you’re gonna get me to say A Troll in Central Park-- (The movie poster for “A Troll in Central Park” shows up to his right with the caption “Next Week” above it.) FUUUUUUUUU—!
(The clip of Wade smugly eating popcorn with the dramatic music sting is played again.)
Channel Awesome Tagline—(Willy making his crying call)